Things went from bad to worse for the country’s social grants agency this week after a glitch in the new payment system led to grants not being paid to thousands of beneficiaries.
And workers affiliated to the Public Servants Association of SA (PSA) threatened to down tools after Social Development Minister Susan Shabangu refused to consider the union’s wage hike demands.
The minister’s court bid to stop the workers going on strike was struck off the roll yesterday on condition that the parties return to the negotiating table.
Shabangu argued the strike would disrupt Sassa’s ability to administer grant payments, but refused to come to the table regarding workers’ demands
The union argued that, unlike other public service entities, the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) was not bound by the Public Service Co-ordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC).
The PSA, which represents about half of the workforce handling registrations and payout points, wanted a single-term agreement for a sliding scale salary increase of between 13% and 15%. It also made other demands relating to housing, danger allowances, leave and the insourcing of certain services.
Acting PSA general manager Tahir Maepa said negotiations would start immediately.
“The judge confirmed what the PSA has been saying, which is that Sassa was never part of the PSCBC and that we have a right to negotiate further. We have been given seven days to report back, but as of [Thursday] workers will be back at work.”
In terms of the court order by Judge Hamilton Cele, parties must return to the negotiating table within seven days.
“Confirmation that the negotiations have started in earnest must be attested to by way of an affidavit filed with the register of this court,” Cele said.
Meanwhile, the portfolio committee on social development heard yesterday from provincial delegations about the weaknesses of the South African Post Office (Sapo) regarding implementation of the process of disbursing of social grants.
The problems included long queues, stampedes in post offices, the inability of staff to cope with the large numbers of people and the unavailability of enough cash in most areas.
The committee said: “Because weaknesses in the implementation of the payment process are now becoming manifest, the committee wants to revisit the road map Sapo presented to the committee and to hear about the progress Sapo has made in its checklist for disbursements.”
On Tuesday, the Democratic Alliance said it was concerned about reports from social grant beneficiaries across the country that systems glitches resulted in millions of grant recipients going home empty-handed after queuing to collect their monthly payouts.
The party said Sassa and Sapo, which was appointed as the preferred payment channel for all social grants, appeared to have been ill-prepared for the changes to the payment system which were effected from July 1. The committee also urged Sassa to improve its communication with people, particularly when problems were anticipated.
The committee also asked that the agency ensure that frontline staff dealing directly with the public were kind and courteous.